The “Word Of God” At Christmas
What could be seen, what could be heard on that first Christmas night? A newborn infant bundled up in a manger, unable to speak. He can only cry. He is totally dependent on his parents. Common sense tells us that an infant cannot speak, cannot walk, and cannot think sensibly. And, just like us, Jesus will have no memory of this in future years. He is truly human.
So the opening words of John’s Gospel today are simply amazing. Jesus Christ is the Word of God and was with God from the beginning—from before this world began. We are told that it was through this Word that everything was made.
The Letter to the Hebrews also says that Jesus Christ is God’s way of speaking to us, and is indeed the very Word of God. God spoke at various times and in various ways throughout the history of the world and especially through the Old Testament prophets, but in our own time God has spoken through a Son. The Creator becomes a creature.
The historical Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Word to us. This Word, this Jesus, is what God wanted most of all to say to us. In giving us Jesus, God has said all that he wanted to say. The words, the deeds, and the very face of Jesus are God’s way of speaking and acting in this world. They are God’s way of looking at us—with concern and understanding, and forgiveness for our sins and weaknesses.
According to this same Letter to the Hebrews, from all eternity the Father said “You are my Son. I have begotten you today.” That eternal “today” means first of all that day in human history when the Word took on flesh and was born in this world. God wanted to be with us. That “eternal today” includes “our today,” this very December 25, 2022. God speaks to each one of us here today, with concern and understanding for our situation and for the situation of our world.
In his retreat manual called the “Spiritual Exercises,” St Ignatius of Loyola urges us to approach the birth of Jesus by imagining the whole world as the Blessed Trinity sees it. Some people appear to have lost all orientation and hope. Some are in good health, others are sick and suffering, and some of these do not have the physical or financial ability to get medical help. Some hate and kill. Some nations are at peace and others are in the midst of war.
Looking at this scene, what did the Holy Trinity do? The Second Person of the Trinity looked down and saw us and said, “I will go there and live with them.” He pitched his tent among us.
There is something quite surprising here. The second reading tells us that the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself, is the bright and exact image of God. We are told that he created all things by his powerful word and holds them all in existence. He keeps us from falling back into nothing. And here is the surprise. He begins his life in this world as an infant who cannot speak, cannot walk, and cannot think sensibly. He will have to learn how to talk, how to walk, how to work with wood to make house and farm supplies so as to support his family.
The Letter to the Hebrews also tells us that this Jesus is far superior to the angels, but in John’s Gospel we find that he came among his own people and his own people did not receive him. They even rejected him and sentenced him to a criminal’s death by crucifixion. But here, too, God’s glory shines out. As the Word of God, Jesus holds heaven and earth together, rejecting neither God nor humanity. He holds God and humanity together first of all in his own flesh, and then, in his last words from the cross, he destroys our sinful separation from God. “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing,” he says, and in this way he does not abandon us.
In his utter humiliation and death on the cross Jesus shows us how much God loves us and wants to be with us, and wants us to be with him. The message of Jesus’ life and death is that God is our Father. That is the unique contribution of Christianity to the religions of the world: God is our loving Father.
On this Christmas Day, we look at the bright side of life, both to give thanks for the blessings of the past year and to hope for a brighter year ahead. But we can’t overlook the downside of the past year—the shameful miseries that somehow escape our control but deeply involve us in an increasingly violent world: wars, terror, torture, executions, abuse, disease, economic meltdown, environmental destruction. While counting our blessings, we also share the pain of the many miseries that touch our fellow human beings.
Perhaps this mutual sharing is the greatest gift Christmas brings us. God sends his only Son to share our whole life and be with us, even in a miserable death, to show us that are not alone, cold, and helpless, if we give care and concern to one another and respect the human dignity of everyone as children of God with Jesus.
Christmas comes at a good time of year
--when it’s dark and we want light
--when it’s cold and we want warmth
--when the dying year heals old wounds
--and the new year invites us to hope for something better.
I pray that God may bless you and all who are dear to you.
Robert Chiesa SJSt Ignatius Dec 25 2022 (12:00 noon)